Saturday, February 23, 2008


by Ralph Schoenman

In an article entitled “Carol Brightman on the Sixties” (Truth-Dig, January 3, 2008) Ms.
Brightman reviews three books, including Ravens In the Storm: A Personal History of the
1960’s Anti-War Movement by Carl Oglesby.
The article is replete with falsehoods and disinformation concerning the work of the
International Tribunal on U.S. War Crimes in Indo-China, of which I was Secretary-
General, and of my role within it.
Ms. Brightman’s errors, large and small, embellish the pattern of distortion in Mr.
Oglesby’s book. The most egregious of these fabrications concerns the views of Jean-Paul
Sartre, Executive President of the Tribunal and of other Tribunal members on the question
of genocide.
Ms. Brightman’s claims regarding her own role are instructive, not merely for their
petty misrepresentations but for what she conceals. She writes, “Early in 1967, I had gone
on the second of the tribunal’s two fact-finding teams to North Vietnam, the only American
and only woman.”
In fact, not two but six investigative teams were sent to Cambodia and North
Vietnam, with supplemental investigative work carried out in the liberated zones of South
Vietnam. Ms. Brightman was not the sole American on the second team, but one of three.
She omits to mention that members of these teams had been briefed about the
sensitivity of our work, notably in countries under agonizingly massive and continuous
attack by overwhelming U.S. air and ground assault.
Each potential participant had been vetted for their qualifications to examine evidence
pertaining to the issues at hand and, in particular, for responsible discretion with respect to
U.S. intelligence efforts to obtain information about Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian
logistics on the ground.
Visas for members of these teams were arranged with the authorities in these
countries based upon such assurances. To our dismay, when we boarded the plane in Paris
for Phnom Penh, accompanying Ms. Brightman was a man unknown to us who carried an
ABC television camera.
Ms. Brightman stated that this was her boyfriend, whom she had invited to join our
investigative team and participate in its work. We explained that this was not possible, that
he was unknown to us, had not been placed on the team and had not been approved for
visas by the governments of Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. We
advised her that he would not be admitted to Phnom Penh unless he had a visa arranged
by ABC and that, regardless, he would have no part in our work.
On arrival, he gained entry by representing falsely that he was a late inclusion in our
investigative team. He shared quarters with Ms. Brightman, who attempted daily to
insinuate him in our work.
This was refused by the team collectively. Members of the investigative team met to
decide how to deal with this situation. The abiding sentiment was to remove Ms.
Truth as Casualty • page 2
Brightman from the team and exclude her from its work; there were concerns that we were
in the presence of a provocation intended to discredit the team itself.
It was agreed that I would consult the Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities and
describe the situation fully. We learned that Ms. Brightman’s friend had attempted to
interview officials and individuals, presenting himself as “Bertrand Russell’s
He was asked by the Cambodian authorities to leave. He showed up in Saigon where
he conducted interviews with U.S. soldiers, later shown on U.S. television. These were
interviews sympathetic to U.S. policy.
The Vietnamese representatives in Phom Penh alerted Hanoi to the situation and it
was agreed that to avoid a public dispute deployed by U.S. media to undermine the work
of the Tribunal, Ms. Brightman would continue with us to Hanoi, but that she would not be
allowed access to any sensitive zone or area.
In her article, Ms. Brightman, describes “drinking and swapping stories” at the
Metropole Hotel in Hanoi. “Schoenman, it was said, had stood up at a dinner with North
Vietnamese leaders and rebuked them for thinking of peace. He raised his glass in a victory
salute; no one responded.”
The story is risible. I had been meeting with Ho Chi Minh, Pham Van Dong and party
and governmental figures over a period of four years to discuss how most effectively to
wage resistance to the U.S. war internationally, including our preparations for the Tribunal
that had been ongoing since 1963.
I was chair at the time of the Vietnamese Solidarity Campaign in Great Britain, with
sixty member organizations. Our public view, and that of Bertrand Russell during those
years, was that we must face U.S. rulers with the demand “Out Now,” not pressure the
Vietnamese victims of onslaught to make concessions to U.S. imperial policy in the name of
The occasion of these remarks by Ms. Brightman is an ostensible review of Carl
Oglesby’s memoir. Ms. Brightman quotes extensively from “Oglesby’s account” which, she
states, “gives a vivid portrait of Ralph Schoenman, the American expatriate and Russell’s
Mr. Oglesby writes as follows: “Schoenman was about thirty, a tall man with broad
shoulders. He wore his black hair combed straight back and varnished down. His skin was
pale, his dark eyes nervous and darkly shadowed. He was always in a black turtleneck
sweater and dark blue blazer, always stiffly erect with his chest out …”
Mr. Oglesby’s self-description to the Tribunal was as “a playwright and political
essayist” and perhaps he thinks of himself as entitled to dramatic license.
My height is under 5’ 10” and I am of slender build. My shoulders are not broad nor
does my chest protrude. My weight was in the 150’s in 1967. It is 145 today. My hair is not
black, but medium brown. I have never combed it straight back nor plastered it to my
scalp. My hair was combed loosely forward, Beatles style.
My color now as then is pretty good. I have never been accused of suffering from
pallor. My eyes are light hazel with a touch of green, not black or even dark. I have never
owned a black turtleneck sweater nor attempted to wear one. My standard dress was a suit
Truth as Casualty • page 3
or a jacket, dress shirt and necktie. My preference in pullovers, worn occasionally in less
formal settings, has been those of light colors.
Mr. Oglesby may have someone else in mind. He writes, however, to Ms. Brightman’s
“In one closed meeting of the tribunal during our second session in late November in
a town called Roskilde, about twenty miles from Copenhagen, Schoenman announced that
Russell wanted the tribunal to take an affirmative position on the genocide question, one of
several questions the tribunal was examining.
“The practical question was whether the United States was specifically targeting
Vietnamese population centers. Attacks on civilians constituted a crime of war, technical
genocide. Schoenman told us that Russell believed such attacks were happening and that
the United States was therefore guilty of genocide.
“Sartre disagreed. He saw American attacks on population centers as a consequence
of the fact that Viet Cong and North Vietnamese combat units often stationed themselves in
cities and villages. As Sartre saw it, such attacks were deplorable but nonetheless did not
constitute genocide. In Sartre’s view, one could not use that term without evoking
memories of Hitler’s assault on the Jews. Compared to the Holocaust, what the United
States was doing in Vietnam was just fighting an ugly war in an ugly way. If the United
States was in the wrong, he felt, that was because its effort to subdue the Vietnamese
resistance was in itself wrong, not because the United States was trying to exterminate the
Vietnamese people.”
The claim by Mr. Oglesby that U.S. saturation destruction of the civilian population of
Vietnam only occurred as an ancillary consequence of the deliberate placement by the
Vietnamese of their soldiers and armed forces inside population centers is not merely a
deeply reactionary and dishonest claim. It was the lying rationale of the U.S. State
Department and of the Pentagon.
Ms. Brightman writes that “Oglesby was a great admirer of Jean-Paul Sartre, who
together with Simone de Beauvoir and Vlado (sic) Dedijer, a World War II adjutant of
Tito’s and a hero of the Yugoslav anti-Nazi resistance, presided over the tribunal.
Schoenman represented Lord Russell, who remained a ghostly figure in Wales.”
Fathering this contemptible lie upon Jean-Paul Sartre is a strange form of admiration.
Mr. Oglesby, cheered on by Ms. Brightman in her review, imputes to Sartre a defense of
U.S. imperialism against the “baseless” charge of genocide.
He places in Sartre’s mouth the revolting rationale of U.S. rulers themselves that the
mass death of civilians in Vietnam was really the fault of the callous Vietnamese
communists who hid their armies within population centers to deploy massive civilian
deaths (now called ‘collateral damage’) as cynical propaganda.
Mr. Oglesby elaborates upon these presumptive views of Sartre, which he claims
Sartre set forth in indignant opposition to my assertions that genocidal attacks on the
Vietnamese population were taking place.
“All day long Schoenman would say, on the one hand, things like, ‘Lord Russell says
he expects the tribunal to find the United States guilty of genocide,’ where the subtext was
that Russell was paying for this damned thing and did not want to be unhappy with its
findings. And then on the other hand, when Sartre challenged him on the genocide issue,
Truth as Casualty • page 4
Schoenman would say, “ ‘Don’t expect me to defend Lord Russell’s positions because I
would not think of speaking for him.’ ”
This is bizarre. I had been speaking and writing for six years on the subject. The
Student Peace Union in the United States had published Bertrand Russell’s writing on the
genocidal war in Vietnam in 1963.
Bertrand Russell’s book War Crimes In Vietnam, written before the Tribunal took
place, set forth evidence we had made public since 1962. The first chapter, entitled “The
Press and Vietnam – March-July 1963” contains our exchanges with the New York Times
regarding our documented evidence of U.S. saturation bombing of the civilian populace
and of insidious chemical weapons, including gases that explode the pupil of the eye.
It cites our letter to the New York Times referencing “a year’s study … of the chemicals
sprayed in South Vietnam and their effect upon the health of human beings, animals and
crops.” It sets forth data concerning the use of “white arsenic, various kinds of arsenite
sodium and arsenite calcium, lead manganese arsenates, DNP and DNC (which inflame
and eat into human flesh); and calcic cyanamide … which has seriously affected thousands
of the inhabitants of South Vietnam; with having spread these poisonous chemicals on
large and densely populated areas of South Vietnam.
“ … The use of these weapons,” we stated, “napalm bombs and chemicals, constitutes
and results in atrocities and points to the fact that this is a war of annihilation.”
This chapter describes how the New York Times published this letter, while excising
the cited evidence and then accused Russell in an editorial of “spreading communist
propaganda, as he in his heart must know.”
It is instructive to note that Mr. Oglesby imputes to Jean-Paul Sartre the view that
Bertrand Russell and I were “following the line of North Vietnam” on the subject of
War Crimes in Vietnam was published in 1967 by Monthly Review Press and by
George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. It included a 48 page essay of mine containing a detailed eyewitness
account of the weaponry used and the effects on the population of North Vietnam.
It lists the members of the Tribunal. (Mr. Oglesby was not among them.) It describes
the planned convening of the Tribunal in London on November 13, 1966 “to announce its
structure, statement of aims and time table.” It specified five areas of inquiry for which
evidence would be assembled.
The fifth was “the pursuit of genocidal policies, including forced labor camps, mass
burials and other techniques of extermination in the South.” This issue and the evidence
pertaining to it was on the agenda in Roskilde, near Copenhagen.
As I described our work in Against The Crime of Silence, “We proclaimed our
conviction that terrible crimes were occurring and that we were in possession of evidence
of such magnitude that it was essential to investigate the charges of this accusation.
“Our evidence established that eight million people were placed in barbed wire
internment camps by U.S. and South Vietnamese forces. It showed the systematic
destruction of hospitals, schools, sanatoria, dams, dikes, churches and pagodas. It
demonstrated that the cultural remains of a rich and complex civilization representing the
legacy of generations had been smashed in a terror of five million pounds of high
explosives daily.
Truth as Casualty • page 5
“Every nine months, this destruction is roughly equivalent to the total bombardment
of the Pacific theater in World War II. It is as if the Louvre and the cathedrals had been
doused in napalm and pulverized by 1000 pound bombs.”
Mr. Oglesby does not rest at fathering upon Jean-Paul Sartre a rejection of my
presumptive dogmatic insistence, allegedly without concern for evidence, that genocide
was occurring in Vietnam. Mr. Oglesby attributes a fundamental division on these matters
to the Tribunal members at large:
“Apart from the existential problems between Sartre and Schoenman, this split over
the question of genocide was the one serious split among the members of the tribunal. In
crudest terms, Russell wanted a guilty verdict on this question, but Sartre was determined
to let the evidence speak for itself. And as Sartre saw it, the evidence did not prove
genocide. He thought it essential that the tribunal demonstrate its independence by voting
to satisfy its own conscience. And he had let it be known that he thought Russell in the
wrong to push North Vietnam’s line.”
Ms. Brightman, typically, cannot resist embellishing this citation. The word
“propaganda” is not Mr. Oglesby’s but Ms. Brightman’s, who slips it into her citation of his
text, writing “North Vietnam’s propaganda line.”
Mr. Oglesby resumes his breathless account of a supposed envenomed exchange on
the subject between Jean-Paul Sartre and myself:
“Schoenman didn’t seem to care terribly about the quality of the evidence. He had
already harangued several closed sessions about this and was now doing it again.”
Ms. Brightman picks up the theme eagerly from Mr. Oglesby:
“Lord Russell was unhappy to hear of the recent attacks upon him by certain tribunal
members,” Schoenman said, “He is all the more distressed by these attacks in that they are
occasioned by large differences within the tribunal on the issue of genocide.’
“ ‘No one has attacked Russell,’ said Dellinger, who acted as the tribunal’s secretary
and occasional peacemaker. We simply disagree with him on this question. Why does he
consider disagreement a personal attack?’
“ ‘That is for Lord Russell to say,’ said Schoenman, ‘I would not presume to speak for
him. I am here only to say that Lord Russell believes the United States guilty of genocide in
Vietnam, and that he will be disappointed if the tribunal continues to attack him for this
view. He believes it imperative that …’
“ ‘Premiere!’ thundered Sartre. ‘Our findings will be significant only if they are
supported by facts. Deuxieme! It is you who are under attack, Schoenman, not Lord
Russell! Troisieme! You cannot both stand behind Lord Russell and put him in your
pocket!’ ”
Ms. Brightman then writes as follows:
“Schoenman bowed his head slightly but kept his composure. ‘I will see that Lord
Russell receives a faithful account of your statement.’ “It was not a ‘knockout’ as Oglesby
puts it.”
Revealingly, Ms. Brightman tampers with a quotation once again. Mr. Oglesby had
written actually, “It was not a knockout” with regard to the putative denunciation of my
views by Jean Paul Sartre.
Truth as Casualty • page 6
Ms. Brightman alters Oglesby’s text and places his “knockout” comment after my
presumptive rejoinder!
Mr. Oglesby’s breathless, blow-by-blow dramatization of this imputed conflict
between Jean-Paul Sartre and myself, unfolding as he recounts it in Roskilde, near
Copenhagen during the second session of the International War Crimes Tribunal, has one
fatal flaw to which your readers should be alerted.
I was never there!
The entire drama in Roskilde set forth by Mr. Oglesby never happened. Nor was my
inability to enter Denmark for the session of the Tribunal that Mr. Oglesby purports to
describe, something known only to insiders.
After my imprisonment in Bolivia immediately after the execution of Che Guevara
during October 1967, and following upon a five months sojourn in Nuancahuazu during
the time of Che Guevara’s Bolivia campaign, I had escaped, was recaptured and
imprisoned again.
After being deported to Peru, Panama and the U.S., my passport was nullified. The
State Department refused to issue another, despite legal intervention by Leonard Boudin,
General Counsel of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee.
I secured an international travel document from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
in a vain attempt to get to Copenhagen and Roskilde to resume my duties as Secretary
General of the Tribunal and to be present at the session.
My flight first landed in Amsterdam where I was taken into custody by airport police.
My Swedish lawyer, Hans-Joran Franck, who was an active part of the preparatory team of
the tribunal in Stockholm, arranged with the Swedish government to allow my entry into
Stockholm, whose good offices it was assumed would be invoked to facilitate my
admission into Denmark, albeit on a North Vietnamese travel document.
Instead, the Swedish police took me off the flight and into jail where I was roughed
up, my sternum fractured. I was then placed on a plane bound for Hamburg. Swedish
supporters called in a bomb threat to the plane and it was compelled to return to
Stockholm, to much fanfare in the European press.
From there, I was placed on a flight that stopped in Helsinki, where the police took
me into custody. The name of the interrogating officer was Kafka – a touch, one would
think, that would suit the theater of the absurd that so tempts Mr. Oglesby.
For several days I was a “flying Dutchman,” unable to land in any European country,
placed finally on a flight back to New York sandwiched between two U.S. federal agents.
All of this received ongoing notice in the media, particularly in Sweden and Denmark.
I was not permitted to enter Denmark and did not attend the Danish session of the
Tribunal nor engage in dialogue with any of its members.
Mr. Oglesby is not fazed. Describing further his “adventures” in Copenhagen, he
“Also sitting on the tribunal was the Polish historian Isaac Deutscher, author of major
biographies of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin…”
Unfortunately, my close friend, Isaac, died of a heart attack in Rome the previous
August 18th and, like me, was absent from the tribunal session in Roskilde.
Truth as Casualty • page 7
The second session of the Tribunal alone examined the sixth question, on which
evidence was presented during that meeting, namely: “Whether the combination of the
crimes imputed to the government of the United States met the general qualification of
This issue was discussed in Copenhagen, but without me.
What then of the actual opinions of Jean-Paul Sartre on the subject of genocide and on
the judgment appropriate to the Tribunal?
Did he espouse the views ascribed to him by Mr. Oglesby?
Fortunately, although Sartre is no longer with us, his views on the subject are
memorialized in his presentation On Genocide, published in Against The Crime of Silence:
Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal – Stockholm and
Copenhagen (Ohare Books, 1968), pages 612 to 626 and expanded upon by tribunal
member Lelio Basso in his Summation on Genocide, pages 626-643. They are entirely
consonant with those of Russell and myself.
Sartre’s On Genocide states, “The Americans want to show others that guerrilla war
does not pay: they want to show all the oppressed and the exploited nations that might be
tempted to shake off the American yoke by launching a peoples’ war, at first against their
own pseudo-governments, the compradors and the army, then against the U.S. Special
Forces and finally against the G.I.s. … To Che Guevara, who said ‘We need several
Vietnams,’ the American government answers ‘They will all be crushed the way we are
crushing the first.’”
He continues, “They do offer an alternative: Declare you are beaten or we will bomb
you back into the stone age. The fact remains that the second term of this alternative is
genocide. They have said: “genocide, yes, but conditional genocide.” Is this juridically
valid? Is it even conceivable?
“…. An act of genocide, especially if it is carried out over a period of several years, is
no less genocide for being blackmail. … And this is all the more true when, as is the case
here, a good part of the group has been annihilated to force the rest to give in.”
Sartre is clear, specific and passionate:
“In the South, the choice is the following: villages burned, the populace subjected to
massive bombing, livestock shot, vegetation destroyed by defoliants, crops ruined by toxic
aerosols and everywhere indiscriminate shooting, murder, rape and looting. This is
genocide in the strictest sense: massive extermination. … What are the Vietnamese people
to do to escape this horrible death? Join the armed forces of Saigon or be enclosed in
strategic or “New Life” hamlets, two names for the same concentration camps.”
Jean-Paul Sartre continues:
“As the armed forces of the United States entrench themselves firmly in Vietnam, as
they intensify the bombing and the massacres, as they try to bring Laos under their control,
as they plan the invasion of Cambodia, there is less and less doubt that the government of
the United States, despite its hypocritical denials, has chosen genocide.”
Despite the claims by Ms. Brightman, pace Mr. Oglesby, that Sartre rejected the
evidence of genocide marshaled at the International Tribunal, his actual words
demonstrate where their half-truths lie.
Truth as Casualty • page 8
Jean- Paul Sartre was unambiguous.
“The genocidal intent is implicit in the facts. It is necessarily pre-meditated. … The
anti-guerrilla genocide that our times have produced requires organization, military bases,
a structure of accomplices and budget appropriations. Therefore, its authors must meditate
and plan out their act.”
He continues as follows:
“When a peasant falls in his rice paddy, mowed down by a machine gun, every one of
us is hit. The Vietnamese fight for all men and the American forces against all. Neither
figuratively nor abstractly. And not only because genocide would be a crime universally
condemned by international law, but because little by little the whole human race is being
subjected to this genocidal blackmail piled on top of atomic blackmail, that is, to absolute
total war.
“This crime, carried out every day before the eyes of the world, renders all who do not
denounce it accomplices of those who commit it, so that we are degraded today for our
future enslavement.”
Here is how Sartre concludes his exposition “On Genocide”:
“In this sense, imperialist genocide can only become more complete. The group that
the United States wants to intimidate and terrorize by way of the Vietnamese nation is the
human group in its entirety.”
Mr. Oglesby and Ms. Brightman have imputed to Sartre an embrace of the rationale of
U.S. rulers for their genocidal war. In the process, they reinvent me as a catspaw in
furthering this farrago.
Late in 1968, well after the conclusion of the Tribunal sessions, the Stalinist regime of
Brezhnev invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the students and steel workers who fought to
reclaim the socialist ideal during the Prague Spring.
I flew to Rome to meet Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir at the Hotel
Nazionale. We prepared a petition together to summon people to a defense of socialism
with democratic control and content.
Together, with Bertrand Russell, Antonin Liehm, C.L.R James and prominent others,
we prepared an international conference of socialists and anti-imperialists to defend the
Czech worker and student resistance.
That conference also took place in Stockholm – in early Spring 1969.
It is not the evil that is new; nor is it the crisis that has changed.
Today, forty-one years later, Ms. Brightman and Mr. Oglesby, reprise their political
role in these matters. In making truth a casualty to their predilections and petty ambition,
they evince, now as then, the dishonest lengths to which they are prepared to go and, in the
process, the limits of liberalism.
Ralph Schoenman
Vallejo, California, January 21, 2008

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Former MP Harold Best

I went with Luci and Danny, and Luci's mum Delia to visit old family friends: fomer lefty MP Harold Best who was elected in 1997 but stood down before the last election today.
I just wanted to say what a nice guy, and his whole family as well some of whom were round there at the time.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Toward a Balance Sheet of the Fourth International in the United States

Toward a Balance Sheet of the Fourth International in the United States
Written by Alan Benjamin


This text does not purport to be the official history of the Fourth International (FI) in the United States. Something of that magnitude is beyond the scope of this effort. Rather, what I have attempted to do here is highlight some of the major moments and political issues that mark the history of the FI in the United States—as a contribution to a much-needed and more complete balance sheet of our movement in this country. At the same time, this contribution is aimed at tracing the revolutionary continuity of Socialist Organizer—which represents the best traditions of the FI in the United States.

The SWP and Fourth International After the War
Unlike the majority of sections of the Fourth International—which were decimated by the war, with leading members killed on battlefields, in prison camps, or in gas chambers—the SWP emerged from the war relatively unscathed.

The SWP emerged from the war with well over 1500 members as one of the largest sections, if not the largest section, of the FI. It had deep roots in the working class and among Black workers in major cities across the country. It was the party of James P. Cannon, a historic leader of the early Socialist and Communist parties, who, in 1928, accidentally obtained a copy of Trotsky’s critique of Stalin’s program, read it, agreed with Trotsky, and went on to become a founder of the International Left Opposition and, later, the Fourth International. The SWP was the party that led the general strike in Minneapolis in 1934, and it played a central role in workers’ struggles in major cities all across the country during the Depression years.

For all these reasons and more, comrades of the FI in all countries looked to the SWP to play a leading role in building and strengthening the FI after the war. But the preparations for the Second World Congress of the FI, and the Congress itself, would reveal for the first time some major political problems in the functioning of the FI, as well as with the SWP’s attitude toward taking any direct responsibility for building the FI. The Congress was held in 1948, almost ten years after the founding congress of the FI. And these were not just any 10 years. The world had been shaken by wars and revolutions.

The mass revolutionary struggles following the war had not resulted in victorious proletarian revolutions in the advanced European countries—but the war, as Trotsky had predicted, did give way to mighty revolutionary mobilizations throughout Europe. It was only because of the role of the treacherous apparatuses of the labor movement—the Social Democrats and especially the Stalinists—that capitalism did not fall. Capitalism was rescued, but the mass workers’ struggles across Europe were able to wrest major victories for the working class—such as national public health systems, mass public education, mass public transit systems, major public services, generalized social and welfare programs. The ruling class was forced to make these concessions to preserve capitalism, which was under assault by millions of working people.

Sections of the Fourth International in Europe, by and large, were not prepared politically for this post-war revolutionary upsurge. They believed that the mass Social Democratic and Stalinist organizations had been so discredited because of their sell-out role before and during the war that the masses would bypass them and move directly to join the FI. This, of course, did not happen. The workers’ movement during this period of revolutionary upheaval swelled the ranks of the Social Democratic and Stalinist parties, seeking to advance their demands through their historic organizations. Stalinism, despite its history of betrayals, emerged from the war with great and newfound prestige—as it took the credit for the mass resistance of the Soviet workers to Hitler’s invasion, symbolized particularly in the Battle of Stalingrad.

But as Pierre Lambert, a young worker who joined the Movement for the Fourth International in 1936 in France and remains today one of the leaders of the FI, has pointed out on numerous occasions: “The sections of the FI—including the French section—were politically disoriented after the war. They had not assimilated Lenin’s and Trotsky’s Marxist methodology—particularly their admonition that the masses, in their first revolutionary movement, will always look for the most “economical” means of struggle—that is, they will always first look to their traditional organizations, seeking to imbue them with their revolutionary aspirations and demands. Failure to assimilate this fundamental lesson led to widespread demoralization among the leadership and ranks of the Fourth International. The masses hadn’t come knocking at the door of the FI in the immediate aftermath of the war, as many had predicted. Perhaps, some asked, our program no longer corresponded to the needs of the revolutionary struggle for socialism?”

The period between the first and second congresses of the Fourth International required a full and patient discussion within the FI to assimilate fully the lessons of these 10 years, and to draw a balance sheet on the basis of the program that could politically arm the sections and members to continue the difficult struggle for the FI and socialism. But there was no balance sheet. A deal was worked out between the Cannon leadership of the SWP and the leaders of the International Secretariat in Paris (Michel Pablo, Ernest Mandel, and Pierre Frank, in particular) so that there would be no real balance sheet. The report on the first 10 years of the FI was presented by SWP leader Morris Stein and took only 30 minutes, translation included. Not surprisingly, there was no real discussion following the report. All the political differences between the SWP and IS leaders were brushed under the rug. No one wanted to truly discuss and draw a balance sheet. They were happy to go through the motions of holding an International Congress of the FI but their intent was not to create a genuine framework for advancing the political thinking and organizational building of the sections of the FI. The operating motto was “live and let live”—as long, of course, as no one interfered directly in the affairs of anyone else in the FI.

Quite obviously, the lack of collective political discussion and clarification, and the lack of any balance sheet of the first 10 years of the Fourth International only fueled the demoralization at all levels within the FI. It is an axiom of revolutionary politics that when demoralization sets in, there is a natural tendency to look for political substitutes for the program—in this case, the program of the FI. This quest for political substitutes for the program and sections of the FI would be clearly evidenced in the years to follow.

The 1953 Split in the Fourth International
Beginning in the early 1950s, Michel Pablo and the other central leaders of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International based in Paris began to revise Trotsky’s fundamental analysis regarding the counterrevolutionary role of Stalinism worldwide. Pablo argued that the extension of the workers’ states into Eastern Europe (and later China) following World War II demonstrated that Stalinism had a dual nature—that it could be pushed from below to become a revolutionary force in society—or, as Pablo put it, to “carry out socialism in its own way.” He developed this revision of Trotsky’s seminal analysis and formulated a new strategy for the Fourth International on the basis of this theory. It was now necessary for the Trotskyists to “dissolve” into the Stalinist parties for a prolonged period of time to help move them on a revolutionary course. This “entryism sui generis” (of a different type), as it was dubbed, was espoused by Pablo, Ernest Mandel, Pierre Frank and other core leaders of the International Secretariat.

The majority of the French section of the Fourth International did not agree with this “revision” of the FI’s analysis of Stalinism. They explained that under certain exceptional circumstances, as Trotsky himself had noted in the Transitional Program, petty-bourgeois parties—and even Stalinists—could be compelled to go further on the road to a break with capitalism than their program had presupposed. But even in those circumstances, the French majority noted, the basic program of the Fourth International (workers’ democracy, extension of the revolutions through a process of Permanent Revolution, etc.) was needed to safeguard the gains made and to move forward toward socialism—which could not be established in only one (or a series) of countries, but which required supplanting capitalism on a world scale as a system of production and social relations. And to advance that program, it was essential that the Fourth International exist as an organized political force in every country.

The French majority argued vehemently against the “revisionism” and “liquidationism” advocated by the Pablo-Mandel-Frank majority of the International Secretariat. For expressing this political disagreement, the French majority was expelled from the Fourth International. Immediately, the French majority—this was in early 1952—appealed for help to James P. Cannon and the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. But the letters from the French majority to the SWP leadership requesting political support in the fight against “Pabloism” fell on deaf ears for more than 18 months—a period during which the International Secretariat’s “revisionism” caused great havoc and dislocation within the Fourth International.

It was only after the Mandel-Pablo majority began to interfere in the internal affairs of the SWP—seeking to fuel an internal faction against Cannon via the Clark-Cochran minority—that the Cannon leadership reacted sharply, to the point of embracing, belatedly, the political characterization of Pabloism as a “revisionist” and “liquidationist” current inside the Fourth International. The political offensive by Pablo-Mandel against the historic program of the Fourth International led to a major split in the International—a very damaging split that would dislocate the International for decades. In 1953, the Socialist Workers Party, the French majority (regrouped at the time in the PCI), the British Revolutionary Workers Party (then led by Gerry Healey) and other sections in a dozen or more countries constituted the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). They arose in opposition to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International (ISFI) of Pablo-Mandel-Frank.

For 10 years, these two formations would exist side by side, each claiming to represent the continuity and mantle of the Fourth International. Looking back many years later on this period of the International Committee, Pierre Lambert noted that the French majority was gratified the SWP had joined them in 1953 in the struggle against Pablo. But Lambert went on to add that the SWP, which was the largest and most experienced section within the International Committee, refused to assume any leadership role within the IC.

“We argued it was necessary to conduct a permanent campaign to combat Pablo’s revisionism,” Lambert noted in an interview conducted for La Vérité/The Truth (the modern theoretical magazine of the FI), “but Cannon and the SWP leadership refused to wage that fight. It’s almost as if they thought this revisionist trend would go away on its own. Nor did the SWP play any role in building the ICFI as an international current. It reminded many of us of the correspondence between Trotsky and Cannon in the late 1930s. Trotsky had criticized the Cannon leadership for not paying its international dues to the International or devoting any leadership attention to the building of an International Center in Paris. There was a certain air of ‘American self-sufficiency.’ In word and deed, the SWP subordinated the fight to build the FI as the core of the world party of socialist revolution to the central task of building the FI in the U.S. This tendency toward ‘national Trotskyism was not unique to the SWP; we have seen it emerge periodically within the ranks of the FI. It was simply more pronounced in the United States because of the particular circumstances prevailing in that country. It was evident throughout the period of the International Committee but it surfaced throughout the entire history of the SWP. It was, unfortunately, one of the main factors leading to the degeneration of the SWP in the late 1970s.”

The “Reunification” of 1963

The Cuban Revolution of 1959-1961 formed the political backdrop in which an unprincipled “reunification” took place between the International Secretariat and the SWP. If you look at the official history of the SWP, you will read that toward the end of the 1950s, there began a political convergence between the SWP leadership, on the one hand, and the central leaders of the International Secretariat in Paris, on the other. This history claims that that the French OCI (the French affiliate of the International Committee previously called the PCI) “turned its back on the Cuban Revolution,” refusing to acknowledge the revolution and the creation of a workers’ state in Cuba. This assertion is simply not true. The OCI hailed the downfall of the Batista dictatorship in Cuba under the impact of the mass revolutionary struggles of the Cuban workers and peasants. It applauded the victorious Cuban Revolution, characterizing it as a decisive blow to U.S. imperialism in its very own backyard.

But this is where the political agreement ended between the OCI and the SWP leadership, which was joined on this score by Mandel-Frank and the IS. The SWP and IS leaderships did more than just support the revolution. The SWP and IS leaders proceeded to characterize Fidel Castro as a “natural Trotskyist” and to explain that the Cuban Revolution, which had overturned capitalist property relations by early 1961, heralded the first non-Stalinist anti-capitalist revolution with a leadership to be emulated. Accordingly, there was no longer any need to build a section of the FI in Cuba.

The OCI rejected this characterization of the leadership of the Cuban Revolution, holding to the formulation in the Transitional Program according to which petty-bourgeois political formations could, under exceptional circumstances, go further in their break with the capitalists than they had initially intended. Though this “paradox” was proving to be more commonplace than expected in the post-war period, the OCI explained, this did not invalidate the central need for sections of the Fourth International in every country, including Cuba. But the debate in the early years of the Cuban Revolution between the SWP and IS leaders, on the one hand, and the French OCI, on the other, was not about the assessment of the various stages reached by the Cuban Revolution. It was not about the imperative need for Trotskyists to be the best defenders of the Cuban Revolution against imperialism; on this there was absolutely no disagreement between the OCI and the SWP.

The debate in the FI was about something far more fundamental: Had the emergence of the Castro leadership in Cuba invalidated a founding principle of the FI, according to which the FI’s program—and therefore its organizational expression, the section of the FI—was imperative in every country? Would Castro promote the extension of the Cuban Revolution to the rest of the world with an orientation rooted in Permanent Revolution? Did Castro advocate the forms of workers’ democracy—soviet democracy—ushered in by the Russian Revolution of 1917, until the revolution’s degeneration under Stalin? Had Castro embraced the FI’s historic program? The SWP and IS leaders basically replied in the affirmative to these questions—and on the basis of this “political convergence” regarding the assessment of the Castro leadership, they began political discussions aimed at a political reunification of the International Secretariat and the International Committee.

The OCI argued that they were not opposed to a reunification—but they insisted that any reunification had to be premised on a full balance sheet of the root political causes that had led to the split in the FI in 1953—namely, the political adaptation to Stalinism and the quest for political substitutes to the program and section-building of the FI. They noted, moreover, that the “political convergence” between the SWP and IS leaders around Cuba reproduced many of the same political problems that had led to the split in 1953. Without such a balance sheet of the 1953 split, and without an in depth discussion of the fundamental political issues at the heart of the discussion around Cuba, any reunification, the OCI argued, would be “unprincipled.” Without such a balance sheet, they insisted, all the political problems that had caused such dislocation in the FI—problems that were being brushed under the rug in 1963—would re-emerge with a vengeance down the road in any “reunified” FI.

The request by Lambert and the OCI for a political balance sheet and organized political discussion about the Cuban Revolution was rejected by the SWP and IS leaders. Cannon, Joe Hansen, Farrell Dobbs and other central leaders of the SWP urged Lambert to back off from this request. They urged Lambert to join them in the reunification, arguing that they—the International Committee—would be a majority in a reunified FI, as the combined membership of the IC sections far outnumbered the membership of the IS sections. The OCI turned down this plea, explaining that it would only lead to more crises down the road. “There are certain levels of activity where it is legitimate to maneuver to advance your politics,” Lambert explained. “But you cannot maneuver when it comes to the founding program and principles of the Fourth International. Such an approach inevitably leads to disaster.”

In 1963, the SWP reunited with the International Secretariat to constitute the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec.) The OCI in France, the RWP (led by Gerry Healy in England), the POR in Bolivia (led by Guillermo Lora) and a number of smaller sections in other countries refused to be part of such an unprincipled reunification, opting instead to maintain themselves as the International Committee of the Fourth International. The French OCI, however, continued to characterize the SWP as a Trotskyist organization—a label they did not apply to the International Secretariat or its sections around the world, which they called “Pabloists.” Despite the tendency toward “national Trotskyism” and the adaptation to the leadership of the Cuban Revolution, the SWP remained a Trotskyist organization in the eyes of the SWP because of its history, its roots and traditions in the American working class, and its continuity with Trotsky and the early International Left Opposition.

This political characterization would lead the OCI, ten years later, to re-establish political contact with the SWP at a time when a new and major crisis developed in the USec, (as the OCI had predicted)—this time over the orientation toward “guerrilla warfare” espoused by the USFI leadership of Mandel, Frank, and Livio Maitan. That crisis would witness the formation, at the initiative of the SWP, of the Leninist Trotskyist Faction (LTF) in the USec. The LTF was created to combat the petty-bourgeois “guerrilla warfare” orientation of the USec leadership—the latest form of their longstanding tendency to abandon the program of the FI in search of political substitutes.

The 1960s: The Antiwar Movement, the Labor Party and “Sectoralism”

The 1960s witnessed the spectacular growth of the SWP. The SWP began as a small minority in the fledgling antiwar movement of the early 1960s. They had to take on the Communist Party, which advocated support for “pro-peace” Democrats (from Eugene McCarthy to George McGovern) to derail the development of a mass movement in the streets against the war. They had to contend with the CP and the liberals, who promoted support for the Paris “Peace Talks” with the Vietnamese National Liberation Front—much like these same folks are doing today when they advocate UN troops in Iraq, to replace the U.S. troops (combined with their “Dump Bush”/Support Any Democratic candidate politics). But the SWP also had to contest for leadership in the youth movement with the Maoists and other ultraleftists, and with the left-Social Democratic leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The ultraleft groups, which succeeded in taking over SDS, advocated exemplary “minority actions” in direct counterposition to a mass-action strategy. And they advocated political support for the Vietnamese CP and NLF—marching with chants such as “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!”—referring to the Stalinist leader of the VCP.

The SWP and YSA advocated “U.S. Troops Out Now!” and “Bring Our Boys Home Now!” (There were no women in combat in those days.) With these united front slogans, and advocating mass action in the streets and democratically run mass antiwar conferences (with one person-one vote), the SWP and YSA were propelled into the leadership of the antiwar movement. Without a doubt, this was one of the proudest moments in the entire history of the SWP.

Also very important, the SWP oriented to the developing Black liberation struggle, and to Malcolm X in particular. In fact, Malcolm—after he broke with the Nation of Islam—spoke at various Forums organized by the SWP. The SWP published numerous pamphlets on the Black question and recruited for the first time since the immediate postwar period a significant layer of Black activists. But as the excellent article by Daniel Gluckstein titled, “Strengths and Weaknesses of Cannonism” (reprinted from La Vérité/The Truth) points out, the SWP in embracing the Black struggle went overboard and adapted to the political weaknesses of Malcolm and the Black nationalist movement—divorcing the struggle for independent Black political action from the struggle for independent working class politics as a whole; i.e., the Labor Party. This was linked, Gluckstein argues, to two political weaknesses on the part of the SWP:

The first weakness was the SWP leadership’s failure to fully assimilate the methodology Trotsky had proposed to the SWP in relation to how to advance the struggle for the Labor Party. In his discussions with SWP leaders in July 1938 in Coyoacán, Mexico, Trotsky insisted that it was not sufficient to carry out abstract propaganda for a Labor Party. What was necessary, Trotsky argued, was to “show concrete examples of success, and not limit ourselves to giving good theoretical advice in favor of a Labor Party.”
The second weakness was an adaptation to what the SWP itself, in a rare balance sheet conducted in the mid-1970s, characterized as their “sectoralism” of the 1960s. By this the SWP meant that during the 1960s, the SWP oriented to—and adapted politically to—all sorts of important social or “sectoral” movements of the working class (from the Chicano movement and La Raza Unida Party, to the Black nationalists, to the environmental movement, to the women’s movement, to the student movement) without tying these struggles together through a consistent orientation to the overall U.S. working class and its main battalions in the trade union movement. In other words, the SWP compartmentalized the working class into various, semi-autonomous or independent “sectors.”
Such a unifying political perspective, as Gluckstein pointed out in his article, would have been the fight for the Labor Party. But at no point during this period did the SWP seriously raise the perspective of the Labor Party. In fact, even during the 1946-48 period, when significant Labor Party movements were developing across the Midwestern states, many of them running local union-based LP candidates for public office, the SWP never oriented to these movements—let alone offer them a centralizing perspective of building a nationwide Labor Party. This orientation also predisposed the SWP to be extremely wary of, if not outwardly hostile to, any motion by a sector of the labor movement to talk about, or seek to move in the direction of, the Labor Party. Any such movement was viewed as a “maneuver” and therefore an obstacle to any real Labor Party. This attitude, in fact, was first expressed during Trotsky’s lifetime around the formation of the Labor Non Partisan League (LNPL) on the East Coast.

Trotsky told the SWP leaders in Coyoacán, Mexico, in 1938 that he felt the SWP should give critical support to the LNPL candidates in the 1940 elections. But Cannon and the SWP leaders strongly disagreed. Though the LNPL was led by the Stalinists with the very clear and conscious aim of channeling the mass Labor Party sentiment of the late 1930s back into the Democratic Party, Trotsky explained, they had to do so through what appeared to be an independent, non-partisan political instrument. The LNPL, moreover, had very strong trade union support, among the officialdom but also among the rank and file.

Trotsky argued that it would be far more effective for the SWP to involve itself in the fight for a Labor Party—that is, the fight to prevent the LNPL from supporting Democrats and for the LNPL unions to break with the Democrats—from within the movement. The call for the LNPL to break with the Democrats would find a positive response among the ranks of the LNPL, whose healthy sentiment was being misdirected by the Stalinists back into safe channels for the ruling class. The SWP’s objectives, Trotsky explained, would be better served through a policy of critical support and active involvement in the LNPL campaign. But Cannon and the SWP leadership disagreed, arguing that any involvement with this effort would only help the Stalinist misleaders in their drive to derail the fight for independent politics. This effort had to be denounced and exposed from outside, the SWP leaders contended.

This same approach is what would frame many years later Socialist Action’s—as well as many other radical organizations’—approach to Labor Party Advocates (1991) and the Labor Party (1996). This was not a real movement for a Labor Party, they argued. This was a “rump Labor Party.” While the Labor Party formed by Tony Mazzocchi has degenerated dramatically since its founding in 1996, the same question Trotsky brought up with the SWP leaders in 1938 still holds true: Was it better to attempt to build the Labor Party from inside this process—seeking to get the LP to launch its own LP candidates against the Democrats, seeking to push it step by step on an independent course—or was it better to sit back and denounce the process from the outside?

We in Socialist Organizer answered this question on the basis of Trotsky’s teachings: One had to fight for the LP from inside this process. (Socialist Action answered in the negative, much like Cannon did in relation to the LNPL.) While Socialist Organizer was not a large political formation and was not able to prevent the degeneration of the LP). We played a role we should be proud of. In fact, much of the work done by the LP helped pave the way for the formation of US Labor Against the War (USLAW). And Socialist Organizer’s ability to play a central role in USLAW was aided by all the work we carried out to build the Labor Party.

Supporters of Socialist Organizer helped to pass a resolution for running candidates at the 1998 LP convention. SO supporters helped to put together an “electoral caucus” with Baldemar Velasquez and other respected labor activists; and SO members were at the origin of the LP-endorsed Robin David for MUD (public power) campaign in 2001 in SF. These are just a few of the steps forward taken by the LP at our initiative. What we accomplished could have been magnified a thousand fold by a party truly rooted in the trade union movement and with cadre poised to challenge the misleaders of the Labor Party. The demise of the SWP in the late 1970s, in that sense, became an objective barrier to the development of what has been the most promising formation toward a Labor Party in the last 70 years.

Had there existed a collective and truly functioning Fourth International during the 1960s—one rooted firmly in the founding program of the FI and committed to a fully democratic, not top-down, method of discussion of political differences—there would have been a venue to discuss and correct this SWP drift toward “sectoralism” and this failure to use the openings, which did exist, to advance the fight for both the Labor Party and black political action. But that unified and principled Fourth International did not exist for the SWP. The Fourth International had been dislocated as an international center based on its founding program. The SWP was affiliated with the United Secretariat (or USec) of Ernest Mandel and Livio Maitan—an international construct that not only had dropped key tenets of our program but that, in the 1960s, had taken this “sectoralism” to its extreme conclusion—embracing the politics of “minority violence”—“new mass vanguardism”—and “guerrilla warfare”—all of which led thousands of young Trotskyists to their deaths and destroyed parties claiming the heritage of the FI in country after country. So bad were the politics of the USec that the SWP—which had been central to the founding of the USec in 1963—was compelled to organize its own international faction in the USec to counter the USec’s destructive influence/role the world over. This faction was the Leninist-Trotskyist Faction (or LTF). Though still wedded to the USec framework, the SWP would nonetheless undertake a struggle for Trotskyist politics through this important international formation.

The LTF of the 1970s, Its Dissolution in 1977-78 and the Break with Trotskyism Beginning in 1979 Obviously, it is not possible in this contribution to review all the heated political debates that pitted the LTF against the International Majority Tendency (IMT) of Mandel-Krivine-Maitan. I will cover only some of the debates—particularly those that revealed the re-emergence of political convergence between the LTF and the French OCI.

A. The Fight Against Guerrilla Warfare and Cuba

The fight against guerrilla warfare was the initial and dominant debate that prompted the SWP leadership, at the initiative of SWP leader Joe Hansen, to launch the LTF in 1969-70. The USec leadership had embraced the “guerrilla warfare” strategy promoted by many of the petty-bourgeois radical groups in Europe and Latin America. This strategy held that a small “foco” (or focal spark) initiated by new revolutionary vanguards could, through exemplary actions (kidnappings of officials, urban and rural armed struggle, etc.) propel the masses into motion against the ruling-class regimes. The method of the Transitional Program and the entire quest to forge united fronts in defense of workers’ interests was thrown out the window.

According to this “foquista” strategy—as it was also called—the working class, by and large, had become “bourgeoisified” and pacified. There was now a new “radicalization” of youth and the most oppressed sectors of society that had bypassed the organized working class and its traditional organizations. The working class, to the extent there was any hope for it, needed to be awakened from its passivity by the revolutionary actions of the few and committed. According to this view, the struggle around principled working class demands that would expose the inability of the capitalists to resolve workers’ basic needs, as the Transitional Program had charted, was outdated.

The result of the implementation of these policies by sections of the USec that followed by leadership of Mandel, Maitan and Krivine was disastrous. Under the leadership of Santucho in Argentina, hundreds of Trotskyists who joined the urban guerrilla warfare movement were assassinated by the police in senseless and counterproductive “military” actions. The same orientation was implemented in Guatemala, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, and Mexico—and even in various countries across Europe (although the repression in those countries was not as acute).

The SWP leadership reacted swiftly to this fundamental abandonment of Marxism. It denounced the adaptation to the “new mass vanguardism” that resulted from this impressionistic reaction to the radicalization of the 1960s. At home in the United States, the SWP also resisted the call of those who sought to lure the SWP into military actions—either via the Black Panther Party or the “radical” sectors of SDS.

The SWP during this period also produced some of its most critical articles of the leadership of the Cuban Revolution. The SWP criticized the Cuban leadership’s endorsement of this guerrilla warfare strategy and showed how, behind all the “radical” formulations of the Cuban CP, there was a consistent pattern of political support to bourgeois regimes across the Americas. (Ultraleftism and political opportunism were two sides of the same coin, the SWP explained.) Indeed, the Cuban CP and the Cuban government were among the staunchest supporters of the Mexican ruling class and PRI regime—to the point where Fidel Castro applauded the massacre of the student uprising of Tlaltelolco in October 1968 by the Mexican government—a massacre that left close to 1000 students dead or disappeared. In the 1970s and ‘80s, the Cuban government was one of the main backers of the bloody junta in Argentina, which was responsible for the deaths and disappearances of tens of thousands of youth and activists.

B. The United Front in Portugal, Spain and France

The SWP and its international co-thinkers in the Leninist Trotskyist Faction—which included large groupings in France, Spain, Chile, India, Peru, Colombia and other countries—also rejected the USec’s abandonment of the united front approach to politics in Western Europe, particularly in countries where there were still large Communist and Socialist parties in the leadership of the workers’ movement.

The SWP and LTF affirmed the traditional position of the Fourth International—first elaborated by Trotsky in relation to France in 1936—of calling on the mass bourgeois-workers’ parties—the Communist and Socialist parties—to unite on the electoral level, without any bloc with bourgeois parties, to defeat the candidates of the bosses. (The CPs and SPs were characterized as bourgeois-workers’ parties because of their pro-capitalist leaderships but their mass working class base, history and traditions.) The governmental slogan of the workers’ government was most often concretized as “For a CP-SP Government Without Bosses!”

The USec sections rejected this united-front orientation, which they called “reformist,” preferring instead to forge electoral alliances of the “Left of the Left”—or far left. The united-front orientation by the SWP and LTF meant that LTF-affiliated currents in Western Europe often found themselves in political agreement with the French OCI and its international current, now reorganized as the Organizing Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International (OCRFI). In France, Spain, and Portugal—in particular—the LTF and OCRFI found themselves advocating the same positions in the class struggle, while the USec organizations remained mired in their ultraleft/opportunist “new mass vanguard” politics.

This common program and political activity would pave the way for the LTF affiliates in most countries around the world to leave the USec and to join up with the OCRFI in 1979. Given this political convergence on so many important questions of the day between the SWP and the OCRFI, it was not surprising that the SWP leadership invited Pierre Lambert and other leaders of the French OCI to attend their national conventions in Oberlin, Ohio, in the years 1974 through 1977. Many of us in Socialist Organizer who were members of the SWP in those years remember hearing Pierre Lambert and Francois de Massot address the SWP conventions. In fact, the USec representatives repeatedly protested the invitation extended by the SWP to the OCI leaders—and went so far as to refuse to send their own representatives to those SWP conventions as long as Lambert and the French OCI were invited.

Joe Hansen, Dissolution of the LTF and the Degeneration of the SWP

Throughout much of 1976 and 1977, Joe Hansen had written Pierre Lambert to urge him and the OCRFI to rejoin the USec—so as to help the SWP and LTF become the majority of the USec on the basis of orthodox Trotskyist positions. Lambert and the French OCI continued to put forward the position they advocated in 1963. They said they were open to a political unification, provided there was a serious and organized political discussion of the balance sheet of the 1963 split and the LTF experience. They said it would be counterproductive to pursue any “reunification” while brushing under the table, as had happened in 1963, the sharp disagreements over matters of political principle that had separated the various currents claiming to represent the FI.

Hansen and the SWP agreed initially to organize this political discussion of a balance sheet—which marked a major shift from its approach to the reunification in 1963. There was an international exchange of bulletins on this balance sheet in 1977, and there was even an organized meeting in France on such a balance sheet that involved LTF currents in various European countries and even drew in representatives from the United Secretariat. It appeared for a brief moment that a political reunification of the SWP/LTF and the OCI/OCRFI forces might be possible. But in 1977, SWP leader Joe Hansen—who was spearheading this discussion and possible reunification—became seriously ill and had to withdraw from all political activity.

With almost the entire Old Guard of the SWP out of the picture, the SWP leadership—which by now was under the full control of Jack Barnes and his clique—retreated abruptly from the traditional Trotskyist positions advocated by the SWP and LTF. To everyone’s great surprise, the Barnes leadership moved almost immediately and without any apparent political reason to disband the LTF, unilaterally and without consulting the Steering Committee of the International LTF. In the United States, the dissolution of the LTF began a process of political backpedaling and degeneration that would witness, in the matter of just two years, the renunciation by the SWP leadership of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution and the endorsement of the entire political program of the Cuban Communist Party leadership.

Many years later, Pierre Lambert was asked why he thought the LTF was dissolved and why the SWP degenerated so quickly. He answered that “An axiom of revolutionary politics is that you cannot sit on the fence indefinitely; at some point you have to take a stand and make a move, or else you will simply fall flat on your face. The SWP had moved far during the LTF years toward upholding many of the traditional positions of the Fourth International. Joseph Hansen genuinely wanted a balance sheet discussion and a reunification with the French OCI. But the rest of the SWP leadership—particularly the new leadership around Jack Barnes—was not interested in such a balance sheet of the 1963 reunification, as they were still wedded to that reunification and to the politics of Castroism, despite the political struggle waged through the LTF.

At a certain point in the development of the LTF, there was no choice for the SWP, if it wanted to wage the struggle consistently for Trotskyist politics, but to engage in a systematic balance sheet discussion with the OCRFI aimed at a political fusion. The entire framework of the USec was one that destroyed Trotskyist organizations. Trotskyism and revisionism are incompatible. The SWP could not remain in the USec indefinitely as a Trotskyist organization. It would either have to break with the USec framework and become part of a genuine Fourth International committed to the founding principles of our movement, or it would degenerate. By the end of the 1970s, the SWP had gone as far as it could go as a Trotskyist organization within the USec. It was time to break with that unprincipled framework, or else that unprincipled framework would end up breaking the SWP. And that is what eventually occurred. With the dissolution of the LTF, the political pendulum swung back in the direction of abandonment of Trotskyism with a vengeance.”

A Watershed Moment in the SWP’s Retreat from Trotskyism

Much like occurred with the Cuban Revolution in 1959-60, the USec leadership of Mandel-Krivine-Maitan-BenSaid converged with the Barnes leadership of the SWP in supporting not just the revolution but also the government—a capitalist government—that was formed after the July 19th revolution in Nicaragua. Both the USec and Barnes leaderships embraced the Sandinista/Castroist strategy for revolution and took a major step in openly repudiating Permanent Revolution. But they did more than this: They supported the Sandinista-Chamorro government’s jailing of the Nicaraguan Trotskyists and their Colombian and Argentine Trotskyist cothinkers who had come to Nicaragua to help in the fight to overthrow the hated Somoza regime. These Trotskyists refused to give back their weapons to the bourgeois government, as demanded. They said that as long as the land had not been distributed to the peasants who made the revolution, these peasants and the fighting Sandinista brigades who had been the backbone of the revolution should keep their weapons.

The Sandinista government formed after July 19th pledged its support to a bourgeois constitution that reaffirmed the sanctity of private ownership of the means of production. It proceeded swiftly to disarm the Sandinista militias and to rebuild a traditional army under the political control of the new government. To do this, the new government arrested and imprisoned not only the Trotskyists but also leading activists and workers in other political formations. At any rate, the joint declaration in July 1979 by Peter Camejo on behalf of the Barnes leadership of the SWP and Alain Krivine on behalf of the USec in support of the Sandinista-FAO government and in support of their decision to jail the Trotskyists provoked a major split in the USec.

In the fall of 1979, the organizations that still claimed the mantle of the LTF—in France the 500 militants organized in the LCI or Internationalist Communist League, for example—were expelled from the USec. They were expelled, or otherwise simply walked out of the USec, for organizing rallies together with the French OCI and OCRFI sections in other countries to demand the release from the Nicaraguan prisons of the jailed Trotskyists.

The Struggle to Defend the Legacy and Heritage of the

In the United States, the period between 1979 and 1984 registered an intense political struggle inside the SWP in defense of Trotskyism. For five years—but especially from June 1982 till January 1984, when the mass expulsions of the minority supporters in the SWP took place—a wide-ranging discussion took place among the Trotskyist oppositionists about how best to fight the Barnes regime and about what common platform should be adopted to preserve the continuity of the Fourth International in the United States.

Toward the middle of 1983, when it seemed evident the Barnes leadership would not tolerate any opposition to its liquidationist course, the Fourth International Caucus drafted a series of documents and proposed them as the basis for a united opposition tendency in the SWP. The basic document, titled “28 Theses for Socialist Revolution in the United States,” reclaimed the best traditions of the SWP—the fight for a Labor Party based on the unions, the fight for united front coalitions to defeat the warmakers, the affirmation of the totally counterrevolutionary nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy, and much more. A conference was held of the unified opposition in Chicago in the fall of 1983. This meeting, of course, was unauthorized—as the SWP leadership had pretty much banned all possibilities for the opposition currents to express themselves inside the SWP. The conference delegates agreed to form a new organization—Socialist Action.

Socialist Action, represented the Trotskyist continuity of the Socialist Workers Party and had in its ranks many of the respected older worker militants of the SWP—such as Asher Harer and Jake Cooper amongst many others. SA published an attractive monthly newspaper and involved itself in the struggle against U.S. intervention in Central America, helping to initiate a broad, united-front antiwar coalition known as the “Mobe”—which stood for Mobilization for Peace, Jobs and Justice.

The many international currents that claimed to represent Trotskyism all understood that SA, because it sought to uphold the defense of Trotskyism in the United States, was on a collision course with the USec and could not long survive as a political tendency unless it was part of an alternative international framework. Understandably, the ICRFI sent Daniel Gluckstein to meet and discuss with the SA leadership. Gluckstein was invited regularly, beginning in 1986, to meet with the SA leadership. He was even invited to attend a convention of Socialist Action. All this occurred even though SA was formally affiliated with the USec. The SA leadership understood that the USec had become an empty shell at best, with its only role being to mislead working people on every continent in the name of the FI.

In addition, Daniel Gluckstein and the ICRFI opened a political discussion with the SA leadership about the history of the SWP and the balance sheet of the 1963 reunification and other questions such as the fight for the Labor Party. Many of these questions resonated in the minds of many SA leaders and members who were struggling to figure out the roots of the degeneration of the SWP but also were acutely concerned about how to continue the struggle to build the FI in the United States. These SA leaders and members were greatly influenced by the political texts and discussions with the ICRFI representative. They also became increasingly disenchanted with the international allies of Socialist Action in the USec—particularly the Matti tendency in France and the Hudson tendency in Britain. These two tendencies were unwilling to wage the fight against the USec as an International Public Faction.

In light of all these developments—the successes of the initiatives undertaken in common between SA and the ICRFI, the deepening anti-Trotskyist evolution of the USec (which, today, has culminated with the participation of the USec in the capitalist government of Brazil)—many SA leaders and activists proposed that SA as an organization take the next in collaborating with the ICRFI by participating as observers in the Open World Conference of Barcelona in 1991. This conference was launched by the ICRFI with the purpose of constituting an International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples for a Workers’ International (ILC). Such a principled international class-struggle regroupment would permit the Trotskyists to break out of their relative isolation from the working class and build FI sections in the very process of building working class resistance to the ruling class drive toward heightened exploitation and war.

The aim of these SA leaders and activists was stated openly: As it became increasingly clear that the USec was a destructive center and that there were few, if any salvageable currents within it after so many decades of political miseducation and abandonment of the FI’s founding program, it was now necessary for SA to deepen its collaboration with the ICRFI—a political current that, indeed, represented the continuity of the Fourth International and stood firmly in support of the best traditions of the SWP itself. The SA minority argued, moreover, that to the extent SA remained wedded to the USec, it was bound to degenerate politically. It could not be otherwise. To believe it is possible to build a Trotskyist organization anywhere in the world divorced from the struggle to build the FI on an international scale is the worst form of “national Trotskyism.”

In January 1991, nine members of Socialist Action—including two National Committee members—traveled to Barcelona to Spain to participate as observers in the Open World Conference. Their trip to Barcelona was not authorized by the SA leadership. In fact, for making this trip to Barcelona, these SA members were expelled from the organization. The SA leadership argued that the struggle within the USec had not been concluded, and that it was adventurous to move away from the USec tradition to seek affiliation with the ICRFI. Not surprisingly, SA would undergo a series of damaging splits in the years to come that would leave the remnants of the old SA splintered, largely demoralized, and with no real political life or perspectives for building the FI in the United States or anywhere else. In February 1991, the expelled nine members and their supporters in SA went on to constitute a new organization: Socialist Organizer. In March of that year, the first issue of The Organizer newspaper was published.

The ILC and the Reproclamation of the Fourth International

A few brief points on the history of the struggle against revisionism should be made in order to understand the context of the reproclamation of the Fourth International in 1993:

After being expelled by Pablo in 1952, the French section was able to become the pole for the defense of FI’s program because it never fell into the trap of “national Trotskyism.” Because Lambert and the OCI always put the long and difficult struggle against Pabloism in a international perspective, they were able to not only group together all the defenders of the FI program in the International Committee and then the ICRFI, but were also able to escape the fate of turning into a sect. The evidence of the destructive influence of “national Trotskyism” can be seen in the degeneration of Healy’s RWP, Moreno’s MAS, and the SWP itself.
The validity of the IC and the ICRFI’s assessment of the incompatibility of Trotskyism and revisionism was proven by the evolution of the SWP: not only was the SWP never ever able to “take back” the USec from the revisionists, but the fact that the SWP remained in the framework of the USec was a principal cause of its own demise.
The Pabloist belief that substitutes existed for the FI in the fight for socialism was conclusively proven wrong by the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as the political demise of all the USec’s so-called “natural Trotskyists.” Though the struggle to build a mass International capable of leading the emancipation of the workers was largely derailed by the crisis of 1953, the need for world revolution—and thus of the FI itself—was more acute than ever to keep humanity from sinking into barbarism.
Thus, the issue of reproclaiming the FI was brought to the fore in 1992 insofar as all of the healthy elements inside the USec had by now joined with the ICRFI and the Trotskyist program had been confirmed by events. In addition, the principled regroupment process initiated at the ILC conference in Barcelona one year earlier—a process that far exceeded the expectations of the ICRFI—required a reproclaimed and democratically centralized FI to meet the new challenges and opportunities.

In June 1993, Socialist Organizer took part in the World Conference of Sections of the Fourth International/ICR—at which sections from 44 countries voted to reproclaim the Fourth International on the basis of its founding text: the Transitional Program. The conference asserted that the building of the FI was inseparable from the campaigns of the ILC, which provide an international united working class front against war, privatization, and deregulation—and for the independence of the working class and its organizations. A resolution from the reproclamation conference explained: “We do not see the building of the Fourth International as a linear development that would result from the simple arithmetic growth of each of its sections. Rather we view this task in a far more dynamic way. We see the need to constitute a flexible yet principled framework for common action—the ILC—within which individuals, political currents, and even parties can get to know the Fourth International, interact with it, and consider affiliating with it following a protracted period of political collaboration. The only precondition for working together is the intransigent defense of the independence of the working class and the need to promote working class internationalism. It is precisely this principled framework that provides the terrain to recruit to the Fourth International.”

This is the transitional method: approaching the masses at their level of political awareness and understanding, whatever it may be, and helping draw them through progressive struggles and clarification to a point where their level of thought and action is more astute—that is, in the direction of socialist revolution.

The united-front campaigns and conferences of ILC—which have been waged in 92 countries—have been hugely successful in the United States. The high points include the Open World Conference in Defense of Trade Union Independence and Democratic Rights that took place in the year 2000, with the participation of 550 unionists from over 53 countries, as well as the current International Campaign Against the Occupation and for Labor Rights in Iraq, which the ILC is co-organizing with US Labor Against the War and the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions.

The ILC has provided a framework for the FI to link up with and gain influence in the fighting sectors of the labor movement, but what remains to be done in the U.S., which is true as well in the rest of the world, is to build the section of the FI into a mass party in this process of promoting the campaigns of the ILC.

Socialist Organizer: The Continuity of the Fourth International in the United States

It is not the purpose of this contribution to undertake a political balance sheet of the 12 years of Socialist Organizer. Without a doubt, SO has made a mark on the political life of the United States with its active participation in the fight for a real Labor Party; the fight against labor-management cooperation schemes in Decatur, Illinois; the countless campaigns conducted through the International Liaison Committee and the Open World Conference; the fight against NAFTA and the FTAA; and, most recently, the struggle to build US Labor Against the War—to name only some of its most important activities.

Socialist Organizer began the daunting task of rebuilding a section of the Fourth International in the United States in the aftermath of an extremely debilitating and lengthy crisis of the SWP. And in many ways, the American Trotskyist movement has come full circle; after all, our movement began in 1928 with only a little more than a handful of activists. And while it’s true that the struggle to reconstruct the FI in the U.S. will be not be an easy one, there is one simple reason to remain optimistic: we have learned some important lessons from our past.

We’ve learned that the fight to build the American section of the Fourth International cannot be separated from the struggle for a real Labor Party. We’ve learned that there’s no substitute for the Fourth International in the fight for the emancipation of humanity from capitalism. And perhaps most important, we’ve learned of the dangers of “national Trotskyism.” Our link with a real, functioning International—which now has sections in 48 countries—has provided the political and organizational basis for S.O. to rebuild the American Trotskyist movement.

Without a doubt, S.O. has played a pivotal role in ensuring the continuity of the Fourth International and its program in the United States. This is a credit to the organization and to the reproclaimed Fourth International, which has assisted every step of the way in building the section of the FI in the United States.

But the fact remains that Socialist Organizer has only begun the process toward rebuilding a party which can lead the American workers and youth out of the chains of capitalism. In the next period, the principal task of S.O. is to grow. Undoubtedly, the majority of the activists we recruit will be youth won to Trotskyist politics through our intervention in Revolution Youth, and a proper focus on youth work is a precondition for transforming S.O. into an organization capable of fulfilling its historic tasks. Hopefully, this text will enable many of these new activists to understand the history of our movement, our political traditions, and, therefore, why they should join S.O.

Key Dates:

January 1933: Hitler takes power. The German Communist Party—under Stalin’s orders—refuses to unite with the Socialists to fight the fascists. The International Left Opposition concludes that it is time to build a new workers’ international.
September 1938: The founding conference of the Fourth International takes place in Paris.
1939: World War II begins. By the end of the war, a large percentage of Trotskyists are murdered by either the Gestapo, the Stalinists, or the Vichy government.
1950-53: The ‘Pabloist’ crisis hits the Fourth International. The French section is expelled for refusing to capitulate to Stalinism. The Fourth International as an organization is dislocated.
1963: The unprincipled regroupment of the United Secretariat is formed and claims to represent the Fourth International. Today the USec is in the leadership of the Brazilian government, culminating its long history of betrayals.
June 1993: After more than forty years of reconstruction, the Fourth International is reproclaimed. Forty-four sections from different countries of the world participate in the world congress.